|
Cook County Forest Preserves naturalist Ryan DePauw holds a great horned owl, the largest owl found in the region, at the River Trail Nature Center on Feb. 18, 2021. (WTTW News)

Animals that wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild are getting the care they need, and are helping educate the public, at five forest preserve nature centers around Cook County. But during COVID-19, people aren’t allowed to go inside these centers, so the animals and their caretakers reach out virtually.

|
The Lost Beach Trail at Sand Ridge Nature Center leads to a view of an ancient shoreline. (Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

An ancient sand ridge in the Calumet region became a well-worn route used by enslaved people seeking freedom.

|
Show appreciation for nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (photoforyou / Pixabay)

The Cook County Forest Preserves are encouraging people to give back to nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Head out on a self-led litter cleanup hike at one of the preserves’ nature centers or Dan Ryan Woods.

Here’s where to see this raucous beauty near Chicago

|
A male pileated woodpecker, distinguished from a female by the red stripe on his cheek. (Veronica Andrews / Pixabay)

With its flaming red crest and distinctive cackle, the pileated woodpecker is a favorite of birders, not least because it resembles Woody Woodpecker. Though sightings have been rare in urban areas, they can be found in the Chicago region’s forest preserves.

|
(Jerzy Górecki / Pixabay)

On the first day of winter, Cook County officials touted the benefits of spending time in nature, encouraging people to discover the nearly 70,000 acres of forest preserves this season — safely.

|
People dump everything, including the kitchen sink, in Cook County's forest preserves. (Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

Fly dumping, or the illegal dumping of waste, was already a problem at the preserves, but it’s gotten worse in 2020, according to officials.

|
Cook County Forest Preserve stewardship days have looked different during the coronavirus pandemic. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Green spaces have seen unprecedented use during the pandemic, which has left land stewards overwhelmed by crowds, but heartened to see so many new visitors.

|
The Cook County Forest Preserves have offered respite during the pandemic. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Throughout the pandemic, nature has proved its worth as an outlet and resource, benefiting people’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. Now the question is, will people return the favor?

|
Parks and preserves are tightening restrictions due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. In the spring, even picnic tables were "closed." (Raed Mansour / Flickr)

With tighter mitigations in place due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Chicago Park District and surrounding forest preserve districts have suspended programs indefinitely.

|
Celebrate National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26 by taking part in activities at select Cook County Forest Preserves. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Visitors can choose from a slew of free activities at more than a dozen sites Saturday. Among the options, you can take a nature walk, learn the basics of camping, build a toy boat, meet some critters or join a scavenger hunt.

|
Artist Santiago X discusses his work Serpent Mound, a group of effigy mounds in Schiller Woods reminiscent of the earthwork built by Indigenous people, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (Evan Garcia / WTTW News)

Indigenous artist Santiago X showcased Serpent Mound, a group of effigy mounds in a Cook County forest preserve, as part of the county’s Racial Equity Week on Tuesday.

|
(StockSnap / Pixabay)

Make the most of the three-day weekend by exploring the Chicago region’s abundant hiking and biking trails.  

|
Grilling will be allowed again at Forest Preserves, as of July 9. (Pixabay)

The Forest Preserves of Cook County announced it will reopen Swallow Cliff Stairs, nature centers and bathrooms, plus allow grilling and lift restrictions on parking lots at popular sites — but not until after the Fourth of July.

|
Jeff Skrentny (WTTW News)

More than 200 species of birds have been identified at this small forest preserve, along with hundreds of other living things. We meet up with Jeff Skrentny and several dozen volunteers for a morning of pre-pandemic restoration work.

|
The treetop adventure course at Bemis Woods boasts 2,837 feet of zip line. (Courtesy of Go Ape)

You can camp, golf and — starting next weekend — even go zip lining, but plenty of closures and restrictions remain in effect. Here’s a look at what you can and can’t do in the preserves, and when.

,
|
Too many visitors are flocking to the most popular forest preserves and ignoring social distancing rules. (Raed Mansour / Flickr)

Memorial Day is traditionally one of the busiest weekends in the Forest Preserves, but because of COVID-19, people are being encouraged to hold cookouts, picnics and other holiday activities at home this year.